Election Q&A: Bellingham City Council, Part 1

This week, BBJToday.com is running a series of Q&As with candidates for the Bellingham City Council.

Part 1 features Clayton Petree and Pinky Vargas, candidates for City Council’s Ward 4 seat.

Part 2, which was published on Wednesday, Sept. 4, features Bob Burr and Roxanne Murphy, candidates for the council’s At Large seat. Part 3, which will be published on Thursday, Sept. 5, will feature current council incumbents Michael Lilliquist (Ward 6) and Gene Knutson (Ward 2), who are both running unopposed.

The candidates were asked three questions involving city business and the local economy:

1. With City Council now beginning its deliberations on plans for the Waterfront District, do you think the process is on the right track? What contributions do you want to make as the plans move forward?

2. What should the council’s strategy be when it comes to bolstering future economic development and vitality across Bellingham?

3. How would you describe the current relationship between the city’s government and local business owners and developers? And how do you plan to engage with the local business community?

The Q&As also appear in the September print edition of The Bellingham Business Journal.

This year’s general election is scheduled for Nov. 5.

Bellingham City Council Ward 4

Clayton Petree

Question 1

The process for deliberating the draft plans for the Waterfront District are beginning to be on track so long as the draft does not receive a rubber stamp of approval. The land is finally undergoing cleanup and there is finally a draft plan presented for public comment.

It was important for both the city and port to hold public hearings, and now they both can incorporate the ideas presented to them into the draft plan.

At the city’s public hearing, I asked for the city and port to hold joint meetings so that the two jurisdictions could work collaboratively on this important redevelopment plan together at the same time in the same room. At the port’s hearing last month, it was announced that the city and port will hold at least one joint meeting. I believe this is a step in the right direction.

There are several important changes I would like to make. The first is not a change. I would like to ensure that the cleanup remains to the “unrestricted” level on both port and city property, as currently planned for.

Unrestricted level cleanup is a much more thorough cleanup level than “industrial,” and helps to ensure public and environmental health. The city and port should not stray from the unrestricted cleanup standard.

In a similar vein, we must look for places to increase wildlife habitat where possible. The log pond, Cornwall Beach and the hard shore along the railway all offer tremendous habitat opportunity.

Second, I have strong concerns about industrial gentrification. This is where important living-wage jobs are displaced for other things like office buildings and meeting centers that can and should be located in the nearby downtown or Old Town areas.

For this reason, the “downtown waterfront” zoned areas should be reduced to an area around the Granary Building with a reasonable amount of land to create a public space with limited mixed uses that are compatible with the nearby marine trades and industrial water uses. The proposed parkland can be reconfigured to provide a buffer between uses and potentially increase public access to water.

Along the same lines, the ASB pond should be examined for its highest and best use. If the highest and best use is as a marina, we should consider purposing the ASB marina, located next to the marine trades and waterfront industrial areas, to compatible uses such as the local fishing fleet to help reduce pressure to gentrify the marine trades area adjacent to the ASB. We can then use the existing marina for expanded recreational areas because it is close to the amenities recreational boaters want such as restaurants, salons, hotels, and general retail.

Question 2

Bellingham must work to speed up the regulatory process to a reasonable length of time.  Often, developers and expanding business owners spend inordinate amounts of time and money waiting for the city.

One real-world example is a redevelopment project that recently occurred downtown, the very place we want to encourage growth to occur. The issue was street trees. One city department would only give approval with one type of tree and another city department with a different type of tree. This unnecessarily cost the project a significant amount of money in “engineering,” and an unreasonable amount of time to sort a simple issue out that should have not occurred in the first place. Other cities such as Ferndale and Tacoma have achieved this goal, and Bellingham can too.

Another important strategy to bolstering future economic development is to allow the land planned for city growth to be used in an efficient manner, when the market demands.

About one half of Bellingham’s planned future job space is in the general area of the airport. Property owners, adjacent to the city limits and next to the airport, have been working for over a decade to be annexed into the city. Unfortunately, Bellingham has not acted, stunting economic development and harming those willing to invest in our community in a positive manner at the same time.

Question 3

First, I would like to take the opportunity to mention that if elected to Bellingham City Council, I would be the only self-employed business owner on the council. I believe that brings with it an important perspective that would otherwise be lacking on council.

The relationship between the city and local business has been very strained over the past few decades. Bellingham has lost a number of important businesses and opportunities to nearby cities and counties because of this.

Mayor Linville has been diligently working to repair the relationship between Bellingham and the business community, and I applaud her efforts.

There are several ways I will engage with the local business community. First, the most important thing local government can do is to listen to their local business and building community when they speak. I believe business knows their business, and while that may sound obvious to readers, I do not think our local government operates with that attitude.

I also believe most local business owners and builders are here by choice and want to keep the community healthy as they grow their businesses or build and redevelop in Bellingham.

The second way I will engage with the local business community is with an open mind. As a local business owner myself, I understand that just because the city has always done things a certain way does not mean it is the best way to help our community thrive.

Last, I will always keep my door open to new business that may want to locate in Bellingham. Economic growth is important to a healthy, stable city, and I will always make time to welcome potential new business in Bellingham.

Pinky Vargas

Question 1

We have an extraordinary opportunity to reclaim and revitalize our waterfront. The journey thus far has been long and slow and the community is getting anxious and wants to start seeing some action. Hard choices need to be made on cleanup and development while retaining the culture of our city.

I have a lot of experience with large budgets and long, complicated projects, and I can say that this is probably the hardest part. It’s when you’ve been looking at the problem for so long you can’t even tell if you have the answer or not anymore, and the community is on top of you, pressuring you to make a decision and to start taking action.

It is very easy at this point to want to grab the closest answer and put it into action. What I want to bring to the table is a clear head and a strong vision.

I envision a waterfront for our community and guests with access to recreation, business and sunsets.  A well-constructed waterfront can bring tourism, recreation and draw businesses. We want action now, but we also want to make sure that it is the right action. What is best for Bellingham? Not just today, but tomorrow, and for many tomorrows to come.

Let’s build a strong, beautiful waterfront that we are proud of and that is accessible for everyone.

Question 2

Our strategy should very simply be to support our local businesses. If we cannot take care of our own, then new businesses won’t come. We need to make sure that our local businesses can thrive and that they aren’t hindered or deterred in anyway by the city.

Community prosperity means we encourage all types of businesses: manufacturing, artists, agriculture, marine, technology, recreation and tourism. Through collaboration we can support economic development, entrepreneurship and big ideas. I will use my project management and problem solving skills to work in fostering economic vibrancy.

When businesses don’t do well, the entire community suffers. When we nurture our businesses, it brings us all prosperity.

Question 3

There has been a shift for the better in these relationships, but there is room for growth.  Based on my experience working with the local businesses community, they feel there is a lack of collaboration and an uncertainty in dealing with the city.

I am currently very engaged with our business community in my professional role. I am a member of Sustainable Connections, the Bellingham Chamber, The Northwest Business Club, The Whatcom Business Alliance and The Bellingham City Club. I also attend meetings with the Technology Alliance Group, Building Industry Association of Whatcom County and the Northwest Economic Council.

I make it a priority to engage with as many business organizations as possible, regardless of political affiliation. We have many of the same concerns and needs.

I am ready to roll up my sleeves and engage in the courageous conversations and actions needed to engage City Council in the critical work needed to help our city thrive. My campaign is built on relationships and I pledge to be a liaison with the business community.  I will bring my energy and action to City Council, to help make it easier for businesses to do well and for our residents to find good jobs.

I recently heard a vision statement for a community that I thought was very applicable to Bellingham: Beautiful, prosperous and neighborly for future generations. I am dedicated to finding solutions to live by that vision.

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